Several hundred students will be forced to find a new school unless the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) reverses its decision denying the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School its request for permanent K-12 status.
Facing mounting debt from unfunded student enrollments, charter school officials last school year sought the SRC’s approval to permanently establish the high school, which would generate funding for those students and close the budget gap. School officials had been given the nod for this expansion by previous district officials to include CEO Paul Vallas and SRC Chairman Sandra Dungee-Glenn, but district bureaucracy prevented the expansion vote to come before the SRC during the time these officials were with the district. Acting in good faith, the charter school began its expansion several years ago and has since enrolled several hundred unfunded students. A recent SRC decision in effect repealed the high school expansion, creating an enrollment crisis for hundreds of families.
The school held a rally to educate parents and community members about the SRC’s decision and how it will affect the school and its students. The rally took place on Thursday, Aug. 12, in the school’s auditorium at 910 N. 6 St. Families and supporters joined school and elected officials to learn what action they should take to demand the school remains K-12 and receives funding for every student.
“This entire matter is about children’s rights to public school choice – and the district must stop playing games,” said school Founder and President of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Walter Palmer. “The political process being used against our school is arbitrary, capricious, and patently unfair. Strong, effective, and performing schools should not be subject to political whims.”
For the past five years, the school has enrolled additional students without district funding in anticipation of receiving a K-12 charter and consequent tax money. One year ago, the school was granted a K-11 charter.
This year, the school requested a full K-12 configuration and 325 additional students when applying for its five-year renewal. The renewal was granted, but specified a K-12 configuration for only the 2010-2011 year and limits the school to K-8 thereafter, with no new children or funding. The renewal caps the K-8 school at 675 students, cutting enrollment by 275 students.
“I’m puzzled by the district’s decision,” said Palmer. “First, restricting a school to a K-11 configuration makes no sense. Furthermore, reconfiguring a school from K-11 to K-12 to K-8 reeks of bloated politics and reflects nothing more than blatant disregard for our students.”
Charter school officials say removing a school’s charter or establishing an enrollment cap may violate parents’ civil rights by denying their legal right to select a public school of choice for their children.
Palmer points out that the school’s PSSA and AYP scores have shown that the high school is performing well, and therefore met the requirements necessary for charter renewal. At least 80% of students tested proficient in math and reading, and daily attendance rates were between 95 and 98 percent.
Without any change, the school faces more than a $1 million budget deficit due to tax dollars not following children from the district schools.